'Operation Lifesaver' rolls through Pa. and Md.

April 22, 1999|By RICHARD F. BELISLE, Waynesboro

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Operation Lifesaver, a 10-car historic train including a car that carried U.S. presidents, rolled through Franklin County, Pa., and Washington County, Md., on Wednesday with a message urging motorists to use caution at railroad crossings.

The specialty train, run by Conrail, makes a dozen similar excursions every year through Conrail's 14-state track network to call attention to the dangers of violating signals or not using caution at railroad crossings, said railroad spokesman Rudy Husband.

The train began its run in Harrisburg, Pa., and made stops at Mount Holly Springs and Chambersburg in Pennsylvania and at Maugansville, Md., before turning around for the return trip in Hagerstown.

About 150 representatives of local governments from communities along the route plus state highway, police and railroad officials made the trip. State and local police were stationed at railroad crossings along the route to help to bring the message home.


A television camera mounted on the engine and screens in each car gave the passengers an engineer's view of the rails, including crossings at which motorists were seen violating the warning devices in order to beat the train. "We want to show what it's like for the engineer when the train comes upon a crossing," Conrail spokesman Donald Lubinsky said. "It also shows that the engineer can't do much."

On a normal run, a train passes through 15 crossing and three to four motorists ignore warning devices, Lubinsky said. "It happens every day. People are in a hurry. They don't want to wait the two to three minutes it takes for the train to pass."

Lubinsky said two laws govern motorists at railroad crossings. One brings fines up to $500, 30 days in jail and three points against a driver's license for violating warning devices. "Then there's the law of physics that it takes 1 1/2 miles to stop a 10,000-ton train."

According to Conrail and the Pennsylvania Department of Highways, there were 3,493 collisions at rail crossings in the United States in 1998, resulting in 426 fatalities and 1,270 injuries. There were 63 collisions in Pennsylvania last year with one fatality and 20 injuries. In Maryland there were 13 collisions, no fatalities and two injuries.

According to Conrail, Pennsylvania has more than 5,500 highway rail crossings. Of them, about 2,800 have active warning devices including gates, some 2,300 have passive warning devices such as flashing lights or bells and 459 have no warning devices.

Pennsylvania Department of Transportation spokesman Greg Penny said there are 56 crossings in Franklin County. He said 18 have automatic warning devices, 11 have lights and bells and one has bells only. Several have no devices and some are on rail lines that are no longer in use, he said.

Bryan Stevenson, 911 coordinator for Franklin County, was one of the passengers who boarded the train in Chambersburg. He said the excursion was a worthwhile effort because it brings awareness to a serious problem.

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